Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were two of the great prognosticators of the last century. Both men feared dystopian tyranny, albeit via different methods. At this point in history, who looks more correct?
In Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, citizens are controlled by placating them. In Orwell’s 1984, the government controls citizens via constant oppression and mass surveillance. Both dystopian visions are fearful and ring true in today’s world although I’d give the slight edge to Huxley. Here’s a good summary on the competing dystopian visions from Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
(Read the rest via Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)